Traditional Chinese Costumes for Men

Written by kathy bellamy
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Traditional Chinese Costumes for Men
Silk has been used as a fabric in China for thousands of years. (Chinese fashion image by Liu Xiang from

Hanfu is the name given to the historical dress of the Han Chinese people. It was worn for thousands of years before the establishment of the Qing Dynasty in 1644. There is archaeological evidence that the art of sewing and ornamentation existed in China at least 18,000 years ago. Men wore three main types of traditional Chinese costume: the pien-fu, the ch'ang-p'ao, and the shen-i. They are now only worn in historical re-enactments, coming-of-age and rite-of-passage ceremonies, cultural exercises, and in religious observances.


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Pien-fu is a ceremonial costume that gets its name from a pien, a cylindrical cap. Eventually it came to refer to the entire suit of ceremonial clothes. In the Shang Dynasty (sixteenth to eleventh centuries B.C.E.) a style emerged that consisted of a narrow-cuffed, knee-length tunic with a sash, and a narrow, ankle-length skirt. Later versions were worn with trousers, but on certain occasions a skirt had to be worn in order for the man to be considered properly dressed.


The ch'ang-p'ao was a one-piece shoulder-to-heels garment. Like the other two types it featured wide sleeves and a very loose fit. During the Western Zhou Dynasty (eleventh to eighth centuries BCE), a strict hierarchical society was established and clothing as was used a status meridian. One's rank in society was evident by such things as the ornateness of a costume, the length of a skirt, and the wideness of a sleeve. In modern times ch'ang-p'ao is more often worn by women, though traditionally it had been worn by both men and women.


The Shen-i can be described as a cross between the pien-fu and the ch'ang-p'ao. This style first appeared in the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (eighth to third centuries B.C.E.). Though it looks to be a two-piece roomy, deeply folded tunic and trousers or skirt similar to the pien-fu, the upper and lower parts are cut separately and sewn together into a single robe. This was the most widely worn of the three and became very popular with the masses. It also gained prominence in government offices and among scholars. The shen-i used a very minimum number of stitches for the amount of material in the garment. With the popularity of this type came a change in the shaping of the left side of the costume into a corner, fastened on the chest.

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